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TEXT: Mark 2:23-3:6
SUBJECT: Mark #5: Lord of the Sabbath
In fifty years of going to church I've heard my share of sermons on the Sabbath, nearly all of which answer the question, What are we allowed to do on it?
We approach it this way because we're practical people preaching to practical people. Our busy lives don't leave much time for meditation: we need quick answers. Instead of mulling over the meaning of the Sabbath, its source and end, we want to know, Can I watch a football game on Sunday? Can I do a load of laundry after church?
The Jews felt the same way we do. Scholars might spend years reflecting on the Sabbath, but the people want to know: What are we allowed to do on it? The rabbis met this practical need by drawing up a list of thirty-nine things you could not do on the Sabbath.
Two of them occur in today's Bible-reading. You could not reap your fields on the Sabbath and you could not provide ordinary medical care. Please don't get the rabbis wrong. They knew some things mattered more than the Sabbath. If a man were starving on the Sabbath, he could hunt or fish or gather and prepare his food. This was work, of course, but it was necessary work-the man's life depended on it. The same thing is true with medical care. If a man fell on his way to Synagogue and gouged a big hole in his leg his friends could stop the bleeding and the doctor could stitch him up. For the same reason as before: it was a matter of life and death.
The Sabbath was important to Israel, but it was not the most important thing; a few things mattered more. This was common knowledge, and nobody but a simpleton or a fool thought otherwise.
This brings us to the conflict of our two stories. What matters more, Messiah or Sabbath? Which one has the first claim on our loyalty?
Did the Pharisees see it this way? They did not, and their opinion was not innocent; like everyone else, they felt the Kingdom was coming, and saw it was coming in and around the Person of Jesus.
Instead of faulting Him for (supposedly) breaking the Sabbath, they should have been asking: Are you the Messiah? and How will you transform the Sabbath?
To find the answers, let's go to the stories.
The first one takes place on a farm near the Synagogue. Our Lord and His disciples are on their way to morning worship, but they got a late start and forgot to have breakfast. They ask Him if they can pick some grain to hold them over till lunchtime, and He says, 'Have at it'.
The moral policeman have been dogging Jesus for some time now, and at long last, they've got something on Him-
Why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?
Masters were responsible for their disciples, and, seeing how loose they are on the law, the Lord is either a lazy teacher (at best), or more likely, a false one.
Which is it? Are you a heretic or just soft on sin?
His answer: 'None of the Above'. Well, then, Who are you, letting your students break one of God's holiest commandments?
Who I am-He said-is the King!
The answer was far rougher than it had to be. He might have crafted a diplomatic answer with which they could not have found fault, and which would have made Him look generous and life-affirming, compared to the pettiness and nit-picking of the Pharisees. According to Deuteronomy 23:25, picking grain by hand is not 'reaping' (that's done with a tool). But my disciples have no tools. Therefore, they are not reaping. And so, by your own standards, they are not working or breaking the Sabbath.
Quick. Easy. Painless.
But our Lord went the other way.
Why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?
Have you never read what David did?
The name 'David' is dynamite! He had been dead a thousand years, but his name stood for the Kingdom that His Son would one day revive and perfect. By linking Himself to David and His disciples to the loyal men who followed him, Jesus was saying, I am the King.
You can read the story in I Samuel 21. Here's the brief. David and his men were running for their lives from King Saul. They came to a town called Nob where the tabernacle was then standing. The priest on duty had twelve loaves of shewbread-that-the Law stipulated-only he and his family could eat. But when David and his men showed up hungry and in a hurry, he gave it to them without fault!
Technically, he broke the Law, but, as the story says-
The king's business requires haste.
The priest who gave him the bread was not wrong; David who took the bread was not wrong; the men who ate with him were not wrong. Because King David mattered more than the shewbread and King Jesus matters more than the Sabbath!
If His reasoning was too close for them, He sums it up-
Therefore, the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.
Jesus was not a mealy-mouthed man; He said many bold and dangerous things-and none more than this one. The Sabbath is not a man-made Law. It was God Himself who sanctified the Day near the beginning of time, and He who imposed it on Israel at Mount Sinai. A mere man claiming the right to rule the Sabbath is like the judge of a small-claims court presuming to overturn the decisions of the US Supreme Court!
This is what our Lord is getting at: He is not a mere man or even a very great man. He is Immanuel-
God with us.
The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. The words shocked and horrified the Pharisees. Even the disciples must have been staggered. The words are breathtaking in their sweep.
At the time, they didn't know the half of it. The Authority Jesus claimed for Himself that day He never gave up. This is why the Church is open to all, and not just to Jews and proselytes. It's why circumcision is a non-issue; dietary laws are optional, feast days don't matter.
Jesus Christ is Lord of everything, including the Law of God, on which He has the final say. This means reading the Old Testament apart from Christ is like reading it with a veil over your eyes. It's not as though you miss a fine point here and there-you miss it all-
Search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life, and it is they that testify to Me.
The brash words must have worried even His best friends. The Sabbath was very dear to Israel, one of the ways God's People were set apart from the nations who did not know the Lord. To work on the Sabbath, therefore, was to break the Covenant and be no different than the Gentiles.
This is serious business, and the disciples must have wondered what their Lord was going to do with the Sabbath. Their anxiety was soon relieved.
Like any devout Jew, He went to synagogue on the Sabbath, and there He saw a man whose hand was withered. Was it a birth defect he had, or had he been injured at work? We don't know that, but we know that his hand was useless, and in a day when nearly every man worked with his hands, he and his family were in a fix.
The Lord felt for the man's problem, but compassion was not the main thing He felt that day. He was angry, because He knew why the man had been ushered up to the front row, and that the Pharisees were daring Him to perform an unnecessary healing on God's Day of Rest.
Jesus called the man forward and posed a question to the Synagogue-
Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?
For all their subtleties, the question laid bare the emptiness of His critics. As if all 'work' is the same with God; as if He sees no difference between healing a man on the Sabbath and killing him-both are equally forbidden because both take work! No wonder the Lord is so mad! Israel is supposed to represent God in the world; they're to be a light to the Gentiles. But what are they doing? They're misrepresenting Him; they're making the Gentiles see God as He is not, instead of as He is.
Hearing no answer from the crowd, Jesus orders the man-
Stretch out your hand.
Had he been like some people I know, he would have said, 'Lord, your theology is a little off on this point. Since I am completely unable to stretch out my hand, if you want it stretched out, come over and do it yourself'. Had he done this, I fear he would have died with a withered hand. Thankfully, he didn't do this. Knowing Jesus had commanded him to do the impossible, he obeyed as best he could, and in his obedience, his hand was made new.
There's a lesson in here for us, but I'll let you draw it for yourself. The story moves on.
This was the straw that broke the Pharisees' back. Even though our Lord was doing only good works on the Sabbath, they couldn't stomach Him working that day at all.
That day, it seems, the Guardians of God's holiness formed an alliance with the Herodians-the most ungodly people in Israel-to destroy Christ. And all because He did the same things on Sabbath that God has always done, and asserted His freedom to do them.
THE LAW AND THE LAWGIVER
The Law of God has been given to Jesus, and He has reconfigured it for us. Let us, therefore, obey the commandments in the Bible, but do it in a way consistent with the known character and example of our Lord.
Was He hard on sin? He was-nobody was harder, for only He knew how dishonoring sin is to God's holy name and how much pain it causes in the world. But the Man who was so hard on sin was soft on sinners. He didn't scorn them, as the Pharisees did, but befriended them. He didn't lecture them day and night, but taught them patiently and overlooked so many faults. Did He warn them of the Judgment? He did, but with wet eyes and a broken heart.
What God do you present to your family? What God do left-wing fanatics at work see in your eyes? Is it a mean God with mean laws and mean punishments who never lets up for a minute? Or is He The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? The God who did appoint the Sabbath-as the Pharisees said-but not for their purposes of hurting people and making it the worst day of the week! Jesus of Nazareth knew this God, in fact, He is this God, and the Sabbath He appointed was for eating and healing and happiness-
This is the day that the Lord has made;
We will rejoice and be glad in it.
WORSHIP THE KING
We ought to read and apply the Law as our Lord did, but as important as this is to our stories, they're not really about the Law or the Sabbath, they're about Christ, who, as Lord of the Sabbath is nothing less than God.
Worship Him, worship Him in Spirit and in truth; worship Him when you're alone; worship Him with your family; worship Him at church. Make your whole life an act of worship. Be like the dear ladies who ran from the empty tomb, but were cut off by the Risen Christ-
And they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him.
If the Lord rules the Sabbath, that's not all he does with it. He also becomes the Sabbath. 'Sabbath' means rest, and the Pharisees took the rest for 'not working'. They were right in a narrow sense, but more broadly, the Rest of Sabbath was the Rest of God, which He offers to us all in Christ-
Come unto Me, all you who are weary and heavy laden.and I will give you.Sabbath.
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